INTD Perils of the Normal
This course will interrogate the formulations and functions of the Normal. As an organizing principle, it works in barely perceptible and overtly tyrannical ways; as a concept, it enjoys the appearance of timelessness and universality. The tyranny of the normal is precisely what prevents us from heeding the historian Canguilhem's challenge to embrace the extraordinary and the transgressive. Our lives, from beginning to end, fall under its influence; we cannot escape normality's reach. To make our interrogation of this enormous and pervasive topic manageable we will focus our attention on a familiar – and seemingly stable – object: the body. Despite all that our individual bodies share in common, differences in shape, size and color or gender, behavior and desire can elicit wildly opposing reactions ranging from sympathy and disgust to affection and violence. Whatever the response, however, concepts of normal and, by extension, abnormal underwrite it.
What is to prevent us from supposing life capable not only of exceptions occasioned by cause, but of spontaneous transgressions of its own habits?
The body's ability to engender disparate responses stems in large part from the various and contradictory ways the discourses of science, medicine, law, and religion have invested it with meaning. By drawing boundaries across and around the body's surfaces and orifices and by condemning particular acts and expressions, these discourses establish what is and is not normal behavior for individuals to engage in with their own and others' bodies. Each of the literary and filmic narratives selected for this seminar tackles one or more of the discourses at work in maintaining the normal's sway over us. Because this process lies at the core of how we understand and conduct ourselves, the journey ahead requires a willingness to ask difficult questions and to accept tentative and ambiguous answers.
The war against "abnormality" began with a fear of difference and eventuated in a tyranny of the Normal.
Katherine Dunn, Geek Love: A Novel
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka, The Trial
Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt
Toni Morrison, Sula
Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener
Jose Saramago, Blindness
David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration
- INTD What is Human?
- INTD Narrative Bioethics
- INTD Narrative Medicine
- BIMD Issues in Women's Health
- INTD Pushing Up Daisies: Western Perspectives on Death and Dying
- INTD What's Normal? I: Physical Abnormalities
- INTD Perils of the Normal
- INTD Obligations to Others
- INTD Global Health and Human Rights
- INTD Aging, Sex, and the Body
- INTD Genetics, Identity, and Popular Culture
- INTD How We Die
- INTD What's Normal? II: Mental and Emotional Disorders
- INTD Alternative Health Care Systems
- INTD Literature and Aging
- INTD Uses and Abuses of Power
- INTD Literary Anatomies
- INTD Stories of the Self
- INTD On Human Suffering
- BIMD Facing Illness and Death
- BIMD The Biomedical Imagination
- BIMD Service in the Healthcare Setting I
- BIMD Service in the Healthcare Setting II
- Clinical Shadowing Internship
- Research Internship
- Senior Seminar